Janadriyah Festival and Hajj Eid in Riyadh

This continues the series of posts on our expatriate life in Saudi Arabia (from late 2000 to mid-2004) through a compilation of e-mails and notes.  This e-mail relates our experiences at Riyadah’s Janadriyah Festival, as well as time spent with a Saudi family during the Hajj Eid (Eid al-Adha) holiday in 2002.  In Qatar, Eid al-Adha will begin this Friday, October 26, 2012. 


E-Mail (to friends and family): March 14, 2002

Hello Everybody,

We hope this message finds you well!  We continue to be quite busy here in Riyadh, both with regard to work and our extracurricular activities outside of work.

We had the good fortune to attend the Saudi Janadriyah festival in late January, (held once a year in Riyadh), which was absolutely incredible!  The Janadriyah festival is a major cultural event that incorporates the Kingdom’s heritage with displays of dance, art, poetry and uncommon craftsmanship.  We arrived at the festival around 10:30 AM and stayed until close to 2:00 PM, and were still unable to cover it all! After parking the car, we heard drumming and chanting from the festival grounds, and I definitely had to track down the location of the mysterious and exotic sounds. It was coming from a walled-in courtyard, and after Bishara boosted me up to look over the wall, I spied a large group of Saudi men, dressed in traditional and elaborate garb, chanting and dancing to the drumbeat while waving swords. It was amazing!

Sword Dance at Janadriyah Festival (Riyadh, Saudi Arabia)

The men were performing a Saudi Arabian “sword dance” (ardha), the national dance with its origins in the Najd region (includes Riyadh) of Saudi Arabia, which oftentimes incorporates poetry singing or narration.  We rounded the corner as quickly as we could to the entrance of the courtyard and were treated to a most wonderful and unique experience. It was remarkable how similar the drumming, chanting, and dancing were to American Indian pow-wows we’ve seen in Montana.  (Since I am a quarter Blackfeet American Indian this parallel was intriguing.)  Some men swayed back and forth, shoulder to shoulder, chanting and holding swords, while a couple of others beat on drums, and another one or two performed a spirited dance.

Another area of the festival grounds contained exhibits and Saudi artisans crafting their wares – intricately designed Saudi doors, sandals, baskets, children’s toys, knives, pastries, and such.  A couple of solemn gentlemen sat on plastic chairs painting Arabian-style landscapes on canvasses.  Massive structures displayed the rooms of traditional Saudi homes that have been in existence for the last several centuries. . . . And, at every turn, Saudi gentleman offered cardamom coffee, (popular in Gulf Arab countries), which westerners like us were instructed to drink with our right hand.  At one point we had a cup of citrus fruit, from what looked like an oversized lemon(about 20 times the size of the type of lemon we’re used to) – possibly a shaddock. So delicious! Later on in the morning we entered a tent where men in thobes and ghuttras sat on red carpets with geometric designs around an open pit (for boiling coffee), while one of the men played a small guitar-type instrument (a rababa) and crooned an ancestral Saudi song.

Love the Saudi doors!

Janadriyah Festival

Traditional Saudi Home (Janadriyah Festival)

Coffee or Tea?

Playing the rababa!

A separate section of the expansive grounds held a display of an historic village/souk, with a collection of Saudi crafts and traditional food (mainly lamb and rice, or kapsa)!  In the middle of the exposition a large enclosed area had groups of visitors sitting on substantial red carpets, with Saudi gentlemen serving their guests fragrant cardamom coffee.  At the edges of the festival, children were invited to ride camels with colorful and fancy saddles. . . . And the animals on display were not limited to camels; goats roamed freely amongst the camels, and a zoo with a variety of animals was a favorite of children exploring the grounds with their families.  As I said, we didn’t have time to see everything – and there was so very much to see – there were many, many sections of the festival on what looked to be around 100 acres!  We look forward to going, again, next year and plan to go much earlier to ensure that we see all there is to see.

Janadriyah Festival (Riyadh)

During the Hajj Eid (Eid al-Adha, or “feast of sacrifice”) holiday, in late February, we were invited by a Saudi family we know to spend the day at a chalet in the outskirts of Riyadh.  Like the month of Ramadan, and Ramadan Eid, the Hajj Eid shifts by 10 or 11 days each year due to the lunar-based Hijri calendar.  On this Eid al-Adha we met the Saudi family at their home shortly after noontime, and followed them, caravan style, (with five cars in total), to the chalet.  A large outdoor courtyard area surrounded an inviting pool, while the interior contained a spacious sitting area, ample kitchen and bedroom . After settling in with coffee, sweet mint tea and an assortment of nuts, (Bishara and I were sitting outside with the mother while many of the younger children splashed in the pool), we were called into the sitting room for the Eid feast! My goodness, such a unique and memorable experience! We all sat on the floor atop a beautiful carpet with a mammoth plate in the middle that contained rice and an entire sheep, (including the head), which had been cooked underground for hours. The tradition is to eat this meal with your hands, which Bishara and I did along with our hosts.  (Salad had also been prepared as a side dish.) The family made sure that we ate some of the most “choice sections of the meat and the organs,” including the liver – it was all positively delicious!

Just before heading out for our Hajj Eid feast. (Riyadh, Saudi Arabia)

Our Feast

Dancing during Hajj Eid

After the dinner, which began at around 2:30 PM and and lasted for an hour, we sat chatting for a while, sipping tea and eating desert pastries, and then, one by one, most of us began dropping off for a nap on the floor or on couches. After naptime we retired outside to the courtyard on a large carpet with tea and a small snack of miniature pizzas and small fatayers (cheese and zahter wrapped in pita bread). It didn’t take long for Bishara to take out his derbekki (drum), and for the sisters to put on some Arabic music we had brought.  We were all up on our feet in short order,singing and dancing. Much fun! The day’s festivities ended at around 8:00 PM, as several of us had to work the next day. We had a fabulous day! Otherwise, we have greatly enjoyed social occasions with our expatriate friends here in Riyadh, where there is always much warm conversation, as well as belly dancing and drum playing (by Bishara), of course.

All the best to you and your families!! . . . And, remember to keep in touch! It’s wonderful to hear from our family and friends back home!

Warm regards,

Michele, Bishara, and Mish Mish & Callie (our pooches)

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3 comments on “Janadriyah Festival and Hajj Eid in Riyadh

  1. Wonderful post as always, Michele! I love the photos of you and Bishara..and animals! Wow! I can’t imagine turning a corner and seeing a camel in NYC or some place like that! Great!

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